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The Vegetarian Genotype

Human populations with a long history of vegetarianism may harbor a gene variant that made them better adapted to a plant-based diet, Wired reports.

In a study appearing in Molecular Biology and Evolution, researchers from Cornell University and elsewhere examined FADS2 genotypes present in 234 individuals from a primarily vegetarian Indian population, and 311 individuals from the US.

FADS2, they note, encodes an enzyme that helps synthesize long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, a key part of membrane phospholipids and a substrate for signaling molecules. These long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids can be obtained be eating meat or synthesized via FADS2.

The researchers found that people from a mostly vegetarian population tended to have a different FADS2 genotype. Sixty-eight percent of Indians had an I/I genotype as compared to 18 percent of Americans, they report. By drawing on 1000 Genomes Data, the researchers confirmed that this genotype was more common among South Asians with a prevalence of 70 percent, as compared to 53 percent in Africans, 29 percent in East Asians, and 17 percent in Europeans. 

A different genotype, they add, is found among Greenlanders with a seafood-heavy diet.